Nutrition Myth Busted:
Do Protein Bars make good meal replacements?
(And how to scan a protein bar label for healthier eating)
As busy and active consumers, we often think of “protein” or “energy” bars as convenient and healthy options to eat in place of meals or to fill in the nutritional gaps in our diet. Many of these products tout a great taste, “high-protein”, or even contain “superfood” ingredients that sound better and easier to prepare than our own meals. While many of these products do contain beneficial ingredients and levels of nutrients, a closer look at a nutrition facts label would benefit the consumer, as many come with unnecessary ingredients and additives.
Protein bars are based around the idea that people need additional protein or don’t have the time to prepare cooked sources of protein. Many brands of protein bars provide sufficient protein (ranging from 12 to 30 grams) to supplement your diet or count as a source of protein. Many even contain high amounts of Calcium, Iron, vitamin C or other helpful vitamins and minerals. However, a protein bar never contains just protein, and many incorporate high amounts of sugar or fat to help lengthen shelf life or to simply taste better. Let’s look at an example to break down what you do and don’t want in a protein bar in six simple steps:
- Check the calorie count. Many protein bars simply contain high amounts of calories and this isn’t helpful if you added it to your diet in the hopes of losing weight.
- Check the fat content. This specific protein bar contains 14 grams of fat, 5 grams of which is saturated. By consuming this bar, you’ve eaten about a ¼ of your daily fat intake, a lot for a simple snack!
- Check the sodium content. Many bars add high amounts of sodium to preserve and give taste, and many of us already consume too much sodium.
- Check the sugar and protein contents. This specific example is an excellent source of protein; however, it also contains a whopping 22 grams of sugar!
- Check the vitamins and minerals. This bar contains 15% of your daily Calcium and Iron intake.
- Check the ingredients. Many of these may be unfamiliar to the average consumer, but what is important are the sources of protein and sources of sugar.
- The protein in this bar is sourced from isolates, which are a higher percentage of protein than products that are made with concentrates.
- Many sugars are listed under different names. In this example, you’ll find Organic Tapioca Syrup, a Milk Chocolate Flavored Coating, Brown Rice Syrup, Sugar, Organic Agave Syrup. Even though most don’t explicitly say they are sugar, they are in fact sugar.
Now that you know how to read the nutrition facts of a protein bar, you can see that this example is high in fat, sodium and sugar. It contains many calories, protein and is a good source of fiber, calcium and iron. Can it replace a meal?
The answer is no. Protein bars offer a source of calories, protein and fiber, but they lack the vitamin and mineral content of what a real meal could provide. For example, eating a meal of chicken, brown rice and vegetables provides about the same amount of protein and calories as the protein bar, but with less sugar, less sodium, more fiber and more vitamins and minerals. This makes a healthy meal far superior nutritionally to a protein bar. If you want to eat protein bars as a part of your diet consider them as snacks and even consider a healthier version than the one above that includes less sugar, calories and sodium. Ultimately, protein bars do not make good meal replacements and you should consider a variety of balanced, health-consciously prepared foods as the optimum meal.
Blog Post by Brandon Shaffer
Protein bar (numbers added in Paint): https://www.amazon.com/NoGii-Super-Protein-Chocolate-Caramel/dp/B004FR6P2G?th=1